This story originally appeared in the Winter 2023 print edition of the Tennessee State Museum Quarterly Newsletter.
Scopes Evolution Trial Archive, 1920s
The Museum recently acquired an exceptional photographic archive related to the Scopes Evolution Trial, more commonly known as the Scopes "Monkey" Trial. Formally “The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes,” the trial took place in Dayton, Tennessee, as a challenge to the Butler Act, a law that made the teaching of human evolution in Tennessee schools illegal.
Photograph of John T. Scopes by Harris and Hewing, 1925, Tennessee State Museum Collection, (2022.46.1.28)
The event was dubbed “the trial of the century” at the time, with famous attorney Clarence Darrow representing Tennessee school teacher John Scopes. Attorney and three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan argued the prosecution for the State of Tennessee.
Druggist F.E. Robinson, left, and Rhea County School Superintendent Walter White, shown in Robinson's Drug Store in Dayton, TN in 1950, Tennessee State Museum Collection (2022.46.1.7)
The trial occurred from July 10 - 21, 1925, with Scopes being found guilty and fined $100. The decision was eventually appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, with the verdict overturned on a technicality. The trial was a massive nationally publicized event with reporters and journalists pouring into Dayton from all over the country. The courtroom proceedings were broadcast over the radio, the first time an American trial was broadcast live as it happened.
Photograph of the Scopes Trial Jury, Tennessee State Museum Collection (2022.46.1.80)
The archive was compiled by Lawrence Puckett, a retired judge, over many years and is a great addition to the Museum’s collection related to the Scopes Evolution Trial. Arranged chronologically, the collection covers the entire period of the trial and includes photographs depicting the major figures on both sides before and after the trial. The 100th anniversary of Tennessee v. Scopes will be commemorated in 2025.